1 in 3 workers had their pay cut during the pandemic, and women’s salaries are taking longer to recover

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Roughly 1 in 3 full-time workers have experienced a pay cut due to the coronavirus pandemic this year, according to a recent MagnifyMoney survey of 984 professionals surveyed Nov. 6 to 11.

The economic upheaval of the pandemic starting in March caused many U.S. employers to institute temporary pay cuts in the spring. In the months since, about half of respondents said their pay has been restored.

However, while men and women experienced pandemic pay cuts at nearly equal rates, men, at 52%, were more likely than women, 44%, to say their pay has been restored.

Such findings are yet another example of how women and their career decisions have been impacted during the health and economic crisis, and how a history of being underpaid in the workforce could exacerbate the problem moving forward.

"We see a gender gap in virtually every study we do," Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree, tells CNBC Make It. "The truth is, women have so many headwinds against them, and this particular economic crisis is just another one."

Roughly half of full-time workers surveyed said they received a pay raise this year, but again, the boost was not felt equally: 58% of men received raises compared with 48% of women, and 54% of men were promoted compared with 42% of women.

A September report from Lean In and McKinsey & Company found that 1 in 4 women were considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to the impact of Covid-19. Mothers are three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for a majority of housework and child care during Covid-19, and twice as likely to worry that their work performance is being judged negatively because of their caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic.

With these dual considerations, mothers may also be more likely than fathers to arrange permanent reduced-hour schedules with their employer and take corresponding pay cuts.

This cycle of women being expected to drop work to care for the home, and then being penalized with less pay, can force them out of the workforce altogether. In an opposite-sex household, if a mother's reduced pay isn't reinstated while a father's remains steady or increases, "it may no longer make financial sense for her to work," Schulz adds. "There are a lot of different ramifications to this."

Already, 2.2 million women left the labor force between February and November, according to an analysis from the National Women's Law Center. Jobs disproportionately held by young women, Black women and Latinas are among the slowest to recover, which could force more of the most vulnerable workers out of the labor force in the months to come.

Long-term impact on earning power is 'no question'

Time will tell what these shocks to the labor market, and any resulting policy response, will have on women's workforce participation in the years to come. But overall Schulz says it's "no question" that some workers' earning power will never recover from the coronavirus recession.

By age range, millennials were the most likely generation to experience a pay cut because of the pandemic, which could have a longstanding effect on their earnings over the remainder of their career.

"As somebody who's been unemployed a few times over the course of my career and who's taken a pay cut or two, it takes time to get back to that level that you were at previously, salary-wise," Schulz says. "There's no question that a fair number of people who had pay cuts will end up with lower salaries for the rest of their careers in part because of this, and that's a significant thing."

This could disproportionately hit younger workers and fuel a widening generational wealth gap. As of 2019, millennials were earning 20% less than baby boomers did at the same stage of life, due in large part to entering the job market during the Great Recession over a decade ago. Workers who've experienced long-term unemployment may also have lower confidence in their ability to negotiate their salary when they do land an offer, Schulz adds.

Workers remain optimistic for a 2021 pay raise

In a sign of confidence, roughly half of survey respondents said they expect or already received a financial bonus this year. And 39% think they'll get a pay raise in the next year, a drop in optimism from 47% who thought they'd get one last year.

The conservative number is still a higher share than Schulz expected, and optimism is likely to increase with the developments of several vaccines that could help stabilize the U.S. economy and job market by spring and summer.

"News about potential vaccines has helped people feel more optimistic, and I think there's reason to be optimistic," he says. With that said, ongoing uncertainties around Congressional stimulus talks, along with worrying surges of Covid-19 cases around the nation, could make or break some Americans' financial situations in the next few weeks alone. "It's also important that people understand that nothing is set in stone, and we're still in the middle of a pandemic, and it's still important to stash that money into an emergency fund to make sure you're OK if things get worse before they get better."

Almost 83 million adults reported in November that their household had a difficult time paying for essentials like food, housing, transportation, medical expenses or other bills, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent Household Pulse survey.

Several key relief programs are set to expire by the end of December, including enhanced jobless aid for self-employed, gig workers and long-term unemployed workers; eviction protections; and paid sick leave and emergency family leave established under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. A bipartisan group of lawmakers put forth a $908 billion bill last week that includes some enhanced unemployment benefits, support for small businesses, housing relief and more. President-elect Joe Biden called the bill "a good start" last Thursday.

However, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected the bipartisan effort and instead pushed for a $500 billion bill that includes another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding and liability insurance for employers. 

As of Monday, Congress aims to pass a one-week spending bill, and keep the government running through Dec. 18, while lawmakers work to reach a coronavirus relief deal and avoid a shutdown.

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Survey finds women are less likely to receive a promotion or pay raise during the pandemic
Survey finds women are less likely to receive a promotion during the pandemic